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UN condemns airstrikes that killed 106 in Yemen

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Hani Mohammed/AP

(Read caption) People stand around a crater after a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.

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Citing several airstrikes, including the attack on a crowded village market that killed more than 100 people this week, the United Nations condemned Saudi Arabia’s engagement in Yemen, labelling it an “international crime.”

The kingdom, in its strikes, hasn’t done enough to separate between civilian and military forces allied with the Houthi rebels that it is fighting, the UN investigation found.

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“It would appear to be the case that the distinction between legitimate military targets and civilian ones – which are protected under international law – is at best woefully inadequate,” said Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in a statement. “And at worst, we are possibly looking at the commission of international crimes by members of the Coalition. 

“Looking at the figures, it would seem that the coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian casualties as all other forces put together, virtually all as a result of airstrikes,” the High Commissioner said. “They have hit markets, hospitals, clinics, schools, factories, wedding parties – and hundreds of private residences in villages, towns, and cities including the capital Sana’a. Despite plenty of international demarches, these awful incidents continue to occur with unacceptable regularity. In addition, despite public promises to investigate such incidents, we have yet to see progress in any such investigations.”

Though Houthi rebels are responsible some indiscriminate attacks against civilians, the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for most of the targets on innocent civilians. The UN investigators found that the recent attacks had killed 106 civilians including 24 children, The New York Times reported.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Muslim countries began conducting coalition strikes in 2015 after the Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital of Sana'a in 2014, and took control of the central government, forcing the internationally recognized president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi to flee to Aden. The Houthi rebels are supporters of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The fighting, exacerbated by famine, has resulted in more than 6,000 deaths and led to the displacement of millions of others.

Saudi’s relentless strikes have long been scrutinized by human rights groups who accuse the kingdom of deliberate and systematic targeting of civilians, but the Arab kingdom has refuted the figures of civilian deaths that often quoted, saying they are overplayed.

In January a UN panel released a 52-page report detailing a “widespread and systematic” target on civilians, prompting European countries to call for a ban on arm sales to Saudi Arabia. Last month, the EU parliament passed a resolution in a 359 to 212 vote in favor of an EU-wide embargo on selling arms to Saudi Arabia, reported the Independent.

The UN rebuke comes a day after the kingdom announced that it would be scaling down its military operations, and limiting its involvement to training and advising its allies fighting the Houthi rebels. The United States – which has provided logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition – welcomed the move, saying that it had long expressed its concerns about the loss of civilians who have been caught in the crossfire, Foreign Policy reported.

Some analysts are casting their doubts, however, saying this is isn’t the first time that Saudi Arabia has promised to end its involvement in Yemen.

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“The Saudis are talking about ‘the combat phase coming to an end’ and are promising reconstruction,” writes Bill Law, a journalist and analyst based in London, for the Independent. “We have been here before. Last April they said the same thing and then kept on bombing.”